By Jeff Skagen and Michael Surbrook

Sitting on a bench backstage at the Darkside Lounge, naked and sweaty, Shoko rubbed her chaffed wrists and promised herself that once the Twins joined her—at the moment they were still on the stage gathering up the tips left after the act—she'd ask them to stop clamping the damn cuffs on so tight. Not that she hadn't asked before, of course, but by the time they got to that part of the act, they were usually too worked up to remember.

Her own feelings about the act were more ambivalent. It wasn't that she didn't enjoy stripping. She loved all the attention and the crowd's obvious appreciation. And the money was nice too. But with the Puma Sisters, it was just that...well, that she wasn't entirely comfortable with how far they sometimes took things. She'd prefer to be dancing, rather than handcuffed to the pole as their semi-helpless plaything. Well, at least when on stage, in front of an audience.

Worse yet, between working days at the garage, every other night as doorman at the Vat, and dancing with the Twins on most of her remaining free nights, she was starting to feel more than a bit burned out. And Ayane and Aoi weren't helping her state of mind by hounding her to quit. She'd already promised them that she would just as soon as she'd managed to replace Uni's pulse rifle—which still rankled since it wasn't her fault that the first one got broken!—but at the rate she was going, that might be a year or more from now. Assuming she could even find one to purchase once she had the money. Shoko closed her eyes, leaned her head back, and wondered how she'd ever make it that long...

A loud double thump announced the arrival of two more people to the bench. Shoko felt an arm draped over her shoulders, then a second one. A long toned thigh pressed against hers, and a firm breast brushed her biceps, the nipple rubbing against her skin. She could smell sweat and Strawberry Whisk mousse in equal amounts. Someone's nose made her ear flick and two tall, muscular, well-endowed, and quite naked Pumas hugged her tight.

"So..." Anna started (Or was it Uni? And did it even matter anymore?), whispering into her ear. "How'd you like to make some serious cash."

"Yeah!" Uni chimed in (Or was it... oh forget it.), her body disturbingly close to Shoko's own. The fact she had one hand on Shoko's thigh wasn't helping either. "No crappy tips either. We got a job offer." Shoko wished they wouldn't breathe right into her ears. It tickled and made her shiver.

"What sort of job?" Shoko asked warily. Based on the way the Twins were currently moments from groping her, she expected the job to be an impromptu sex show right here. Which wasn't all that bad of a job... if she currently wasn't so tired.

"A Puma job," Anna replied proudly.

A Puma job? Shoko opened one eye and looked at Anna. "Ya mean bodyguard work?"

"Better," Uni chirped, her excitement visibly obvious. "We're gonna get paid to deny somebody some assets."

Shoko open her other eye and cocked her head to one side as she thought about this. "So, in other words...someone's paying you to blow up or steal something that belongs to someone else. All right, I'm listening. Gimme details."

One of the nice things about the Darkside Lounge was it had honest-to-goodness showers. Hot showers. Hot showers big enough for three Pumas to share at one time. And it made for quite an enjoyable post-performance experience. In fact, the sight of three tall, naked Pumas soaping each other up (and rubbing each other down) would probably make for a bank-busting stage show, provided Shoko could figure out how to get an audience to see it.

"It's really simple," Anna explained as she scrubbed out her thick mane of hair. "Mr. Johnson is going to have us take down some corp's stuff."

"Yeah!" Uni added, "And the best part is he's gonna give us some gear to do it with."

Gear? Shoko looked up sharply, ears pricking. "What kinda gear?"

Anna dropped an arm across her shoulders and gave her a sly wink. "Like pulse rifles, and autocannons, and CBA, and grenades, and all sorts of cool grade-A state-of-the-art military bang-bangs."

"So! Whaddya say?" Uni exclaimed as she sidled up to Shoko. "You in?"

"Hmmm....maybe," said Shoko, sliding an arm around each of their waists. "But first, what does the job pay? And do we get to keep any of the gear?"

"Of course we do!" Anna gave her a playful punch in the arm. Well, playful for a Puma anyway. "It's part of our pay."

"That and some straight cash, and rations, and stuff." Uni added. "All we gotta do is what we Pumas do best!"

"Well, if we get to keep the gear..." Shoko wanted to ask more questions, but her train of thought suddenly dissolved in a gasp as Uni slid a soapy hand between her legs.

"Now you don't have to get us a new pulse rifle," Anna breathed into her ear as she pressed up against Shoko's back. "Mr. Johnson's gonna give us a new one, and plenty of ammo for each." Anna then slid her hands around Shoko's torso and cupped the red-maned Fox's breasts in her hands, thumb and forefingers each trapping a thick pink nipple.

Dropping to her knees, Uni pushed Shoko's thighs apart. "Glad you gonna come Shoko," she said as she leaned forward. "It's gonna be a hell of a party."

"Mr. Johnson" was a tall man, tall enough to look Shoko in the eye. He was also broad of shoulder and narrow of hip, with a muscular build his suit couldn't hide. He was dressed in charcoal gray trousers and jacket, worn over a black turtleneck shirt (and no tie
—probably so a Puma couldn't grab him by it and throttle him). Shoko had to admit he cut a handsome figure, handsome enough that she forced herself to look him in the eye and tried not to wonder if he had buns of steel (and a red "S" on under his shirt). The Twins, on the other hand, were far less obvious and were practically drooling over him. She only hoped they were listening to what he was saying, they might need the information later.

At the moment the four of them were sitting in the back of an armored transport making its way to the southern waterfront. From there they were supposed to take some sort of transport over to the mainland, where they'd find their objective... and blow it up.

"The mission is simple," Mr. Johnson stated in clipped tones. "Eliminate all assets you can find." He nudged a large case on the floor of the transport. "We are providing you with sufficient firepower to meet that objective, so feel free to use it."

Shoko glanced down. On the floor of the transport were three suits of complete ballistic armor, sized for a Puma's frame. The heavy ceramic polymer armor was a neutral gray in color and looked fresh from the factory. The same went for Jinsei M-100s. Each was in its own packing case, and hadn't even looked to be unwrapped yet. There was even extra magazines for each, so the trio were assured to have sufficient firepower.

"In addition," Mr. Johnson continued, "we are also supplying you with one clip for the Styer ACR." He pointed to a large metal box. "We'd prefer if you used it on vehicular targets."

Ah, the Styer Anti-Cyborg Rifle. When the transport had rolled up in front of the school, Anna and Shoko had unloaded several crates of food, bottled water, liquor, and other assorted amenities. At the same time, Uni had piled Anna's M-100 into the back, along with a selection of grenades and handguns. And, to Shoko's surprise, the Styer. Now she knew why.

"Very nice," she said, looking over the very lethal assortment of weaponry. She picked up the clip for the Styer ACR and turned it over in her hands, finding it loaded with armor piercing discarding sabots. Nasty. "But if I may ask, just what sort of assets are we hitting that you think we'll need this much firepower to do the job?"

"Distribution center." Mr. Johnson turned to look at Shoko, his gaze lingering for a moment on her shirt front. "There will be vehicles, a warehouse, product, and similar items. We expect there will mechanical security as well."

"No problem," Anna stated. "We can handle any cyberdroids they got!" She elbowed her Twin. "Right Uni!"

"Right!" Uni chirped cheerfully. "Whaddya say, Shoko? Sound like fun?"

"I guess," said Shoko, nodding slowly. "Cyberdroids means fewer human guards, and I'd rather shoot at a machine than a person any day." She paused and then looked at Mr. Johnson. "So, we know how we're getting there, and what the mission is. Now what's the plan for extracting us afterwards?"

"The same way we brought you over." Mr. Johnson pointed at a paper map. "Armored transport to the waterfront. Hovercraft to the mainland. Second transport to the target. You will approach the target on foot and leave the same way. The transport will wait for three hours for your return."

Shoko nodded cautiously. "Okay, looks good," she said. It seemed like a simple and effective plan, as long as the transport really waited around to pick them up. She tried to think up double-cross scenarios on her head, but even her best attempts at paranoia couldn't come up with a good reason for the transport to abandon them unless they somehow got killed or captured. "Is there anything else we should know?"

Mr. Johnson was silent for a moment. "I believe your mission objectives are clear enough."

Shoko nodded. "I guess so. Okay then, let's so it."

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